In the digitally remastered world in which we live, are we all rather too focused on the electronic channels that determine, route and propagate our relationships?
I, for one, can’t hope to meet, physically, all the people with whom I have a relationship – a relationship often (but not exclusively, thank heavens) sired by an online channel and reared by my keyboard.
I don’t want to demean the value of effective online communities, business acquaintances, and friendships and their ability to catalyze collaboration. No.
But they don’t replace meeting face to face, sharing an iced coffee in the sun – or a tense boardroom confrontation, for that matter. Do they?
Not Enough Face-to-Face Contact?
Man cannot live by digital alone. There is air to breathe outside, and there are people out there to meet, who you will not find online.
Call it what you will – networking, selling, flirting or just making new friends – the importance of face-to-face in the modern digital world seems to be a tad undervalued in my view.
My worldview is rooted on the foundations of relationship-building through personality, shared interests and expertise, and a thirst for seeking out complementary spirits, if you like, with whom I might build mutually rewarding friendships or professional relationships.
"Be like a finger pointing at the moon, but do not focus on the finger or you will miss all the heavenly glory." -Bruce Lee
By focusing on the "digital finger" I believe many are missing out on a vital and life-affirming skill: the skill of personal contact. I believe it should be an integral, irreplaceable and essential part of any effective marketing strategy.
At one extreme is initiation by fire: having to work a huge event hall, or tread the endless, repetitive and soul-destroying corridors of a labyrinthine exhibition, peppered with me-too stands from me-too companies and suppliers – hell on earth.
Conferences and events are a great case in point, but not everyone likes or knows how to get the most out of them. I wrote on this recently, and offered some tips to overcome "Confobia" – the fear of conferences.
But for those hermetically sealed to their keyboard almost all their working days and (increasingly) at home afterwards, breaking that habit, that confobia, isn’t easy. But by goodness, it’s worth a try isn’t it? For your own health and wellbeing, it must be worth a try... and it can be easier to start in your place of work than going for broke.
Some Interaction Tips to Try
"Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation." -Mark Twain
So I list some ideas below to help you alleviate the dependency on your digital relationships. I suggest they are the baby steps of breaking the cycle and building real relationships with real people.
- If the colleague at work you need to speak to is nearby, don’t email or message him. Walk to his desk and meet with him. (And you never know who you might meet on the way!)
- If you’re uncomfortable in more formal meeting environments, then suggest a more relaxed coffee date in a neutral location nearby.
- When you are in a meeting or a conversation with someone, learn to observe the nuances of body language and tone of voice, facial expressions, hand movements... it is a different way of communicating, and mastering it can give you the power of empathy. (And you can use this on a phone call, to an extent.)
If you are reluctant to meet someone – are nervous or unsure of the purpose or likely outcome of the meeting – arrive early and compose yourself. This is far better than arriving late because of procrastination and avoidance.
Use the phone rather than email at least 50% of the time.
Get out of your bunker and into the field of play. Nobody can lead a team if permanently sitting in a closed office. Move around; talk to your people. This is vital to you and your organization.
- Your mental health and your professional development can depend upon your interpersonal, soft skills. Try the simple tactic of making a point of talking to people in the coffee shop queue, the line for the bus, or in the elevator. Public practice breeds public confidence.
"It's hard to say exactly what it is about face-to-face contact that makes deals happen, but whatever it is, it hasn't yet been duplicated by technology." -Paul Graham
We are all guilty to some degree of avoiding confrontation by relying on email or voicemail. It’s part of the human condition.
But becoming over-reliant upon the instantaneous has, in my humble view, really eaten into other fundamental parts of the human psyche – each essential to our mental health, our relationships and our ability to work and bond with others.
We are humans: NOT input devices! Try and live like one and build better relationships as a result. It works, believe me!
Jonathan Henley is an experienced, creative, committed and inspirational B2B marketing and communications professional who is always interested in new and challenging opportunities. Keep up with him on Google Plus.